- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

The Gloomy Gus who regularly moans that the world is becoming a worse place was proved wrong on Thursday, when U Ne Win, 91 and the former military dictator of Burma, quietly passed away at his lakeside villa near Rangoon.

Ne Win rose to power in the late 1930s as a leader in Burma's efforts to establish autonomous rule. He first trained and fought with the Japanese against British forces in World War II, and then turned his guns on the Japanese upon learning of their own colonial designs. After a period of relative growth and stability, Ne Win seized power in a 1962 military coup and instituted his particular brand of xenophobic socialism. Over the course of the next three decades, Burma, once a crown jewel of the British empire, was reduced to unspeakable poverty and oppression.

Ne Win wasn't just a political thug. He allegedly bathed in dolphin blood to regain his youth, and styled himself as a descendant of Burma's ancient kings. He held an especial interest in numerology, and often staged major events brutal offensives, mostly on dates associated with the number nine. In 1987, upon the advice of his occult adviser, Ne Win attempted to correct the country's economic woes by suddenly abolishing the currency and re-issuing 45- and 90-kyat notes. The demonitization had catastrophic effects, rendering anyone holding paper money suddenly more destitute than they already were.

In July 1988, Ne Win "resigned" as chairman of the state's military council, and permitted even encouraged democratic activists to rally in the streets. Reminscent of Mao Zedong's "Hundred Flowers" campaign in China, two months later his government troops opened fire on these civilians. Thousands were slaughtered, and the darkest chapter of Burma's history began. Sadly, it is still being written.

Ultimately, Ne Win was brought down by those whom he built up. Though he continued to exert strong influence behind the scenes throughout the last decade, his proteges inherited not only his economic stupidity and ruthlessness, but his lust for power as well. Ne Win and several members of his immediate family were arrested in March for allegedly plotting a coup with the help of voodoo dolls and sorcery. He was confined under house arrest until his death last week.

Ne Win was quickly and quietly cremated yesterday, his ashes scattered in the Yangon river. If only the Burmese people could wash away just as easily the wreck and ruin he visited upon them.

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